Chapter 5- Joy and Tribulation for the De-Illumination
As night swiftly progressed to day, an orange pall drifted across the land with surprising pace, the sun was lifted with an arcane power over the horizon. The birds stretched, then left their carefully planted nests and took to the air, jostling some of the balloons bunched to the corner of the building. In a small house just outside town, the front door creaked open, and Fluttershy poked out her head. After a few seconds, and a breath of the crisp morning air, she deemed it safe enough to open the door wide and step outside. She looked about the field, and saw streamers and balloons and flags of book covers all about the place. Evidently, Pinkie had been up early.
Just then, Fluttershy became aware of talking. She walked around the side of the house, faced the Everfree forest, and saw Trixie talking with the Mayor and a small delegation consisting of Twilight, Cheerilee and Pinkie Pie. Before she could get close enough to hear what they were saying, Trixie was already off into the woods, dressed in her wizard garb, dragging a cart filled with bags stuffed to the brim.
Cheerilee noticed Fluttershy. "Good morning, Fluttershy! We were just sending Ms Trixie on her way."
"Do you really think she'll stop this whole thing?"
"We can only hope, Fluttershy," said Twilight with finality, "At the very least, Trixie being in the forest can keep those thoughts at bay and allow us to enjoy our day."
"Quite so," said the Mayor, "Now, Twilight, as the official event planner for Winter Wrap Up and now Equestria Book Day, have you made sure everything is in place?"
"Checked and double checked, Mayor!" said Twilight. "Now if we could make our way over to the main fairground, I'll just triple check with my planning coordinator."
"That's me!" cried Pinkie with a bounce, as the group walked to the centre of town.
"Pinkie, are the decorations set up?"
"Are the stalls in place?"
"Are the canteens stocked?"
"The games constructed?"
"The contest judges prepped?"
"And all the books on the shelves and price tagged?"
"Yes, yes, YEEES!" The other three ponies winced, and the Mayor wriggled a hoof about in her ear.
"In that case, I'd say we're just about ready for the arrivals."
"Woo hoo! It's showtime!"
With the loud, clear tolling of a bell from Cheerilee, the first annual Equestria Book Day Fair had begun. Some young ponies were already just outside the festival, waiting for the cue to run in and go ape. The people at the stalls had barely even got the shelves tidy before the bell went and the kids rushed over. Apart from the main few entrants, things moved slowly at first, but gradually the ponies piled in, and before long, things were in full swing.
Ponies clamored at book shelves for the latest copy of the Circleworld saga. A pony dressed up as Lord Mole de Mort taunted contestants with a raspy voice from atop his seat at the dunking game. A debate section was turned into a mosh pit as a debate about the bestseller vampire series got out of control. Rarity was reading stories to the younger children, and was currently on that one about a beaver and his friends finding out about echoes. Twilight was managing a second-hoof book store, and as she handed a copy of The Last Human to a satisfied customer, she caught sight of Pinkie Pie and Applejack across from her, passing out their respective snacks.
Cheerilee and a few volunteers flitted through the crowds, taking careful note of each child that had turned up. Not a single filly was without a costume. There were princes and princesses, knights and princesses, superheroes and princesses. Sweetie Belle was dressed as Cinderella, and partaking in a fishing-related carnival game. Every now and then came a rush and a roar of strong wind, as Scootaloo in full Peter Pan mode was put through her paces by Dash herself. As for Apple Bloom, she had generously given her Dorothy costume to Twist. After all, a friend was a friend no matter how weird they were being. She was now Pippi Longstocking instead, and was just leaving Rarity's storytelling; she knew the story already, and had only dropped by to make sure Rarity wasn't angry, which of course she wasn't. Cheerilee took careful note of each and every one of the fancy dressers, and occasionally she and the volunteers ducked behind something to compare notes.
Finally, there came the moment that everybody had been waiting for. Five minutes from the end of the festival, Cheerilee rang her bell and called for the other ponies all around. The crowd began to congregate at a stage in the middle of the event. It was a portrait stage with blue curtains and gold trim made entirely from wood. Cheerilee jumped onto the stage, floorboards giving out a small creak as she did so, and stood in front of her volunteers facing the audience.
She cleared her throat, "First of all, I'd like to thank you all for coming to enjoy this first Book Day celebration. I won't pretend that this past few days haven't been a trying time for us all, and events have been getting worse over time. But for all that, I'm grateful that this one day, we've been able to forget about all of our troubles, and celebrate this day without incident (Incidentally, no one has suffered any serious injuries from the, er, vampire disagreement earlier). So, anyway, I'd like to everyone to give a big hand Hula Hoop and Brite Skye for helping set up," Applause, "Lemon Yellow and Gizmo for organising the schedule," Applause, "Rarity for her outstanding patience in reading out her stories" Applause, Rarity pushing her hair back into shape, "And Twilight for helping us locate so many wonderful books." There was one last applause, "And in general, I'd like to thank everyone once more, and hope that you had as much fun at this celebration as we had making it happen. So! Without further ado, I'd like to present the first award for best costume. This one is for the Bronze."
She pulled out an envelope, while a drumroll went off. "And the Bronze, for best costume of the day, goes to..." She slowly opened the envelope, pulled out the note inside, and waited for ten unbearable seconds. "...Twist!"
There was a round of applause as Twist stepped onto the stage in her, or rather Apple Bloom's, Dorothy dress, shook Cheerilee's hand and took a certificate and a bag of pastries away with her.
"Now then," the drumroll started again, "The Silver for best costume of the day, goes to..." She opened the envelope again, and the audience held its breath for 15 seconds. "...Diamond Tiara!"
Diamond Tiara trotted onto the stage, looking preenful as ever in her Rapunzel outfit, complete with a gold painted rope bundled up and trailing from her tiara. As she collected her certificate and bag of chocolates, the rope managed to loop around the end of the stage somehow, so as she left the rope continued to trail along in plain view, displaying all the leaves, beetles, mud and frogs it had accumulated.
"And last, but not least, the Gold award, for best costume, at the Equestria Book Day Fair, goes to..." She took out the envelope, slowly ran her hoof along the seam, flipped it open, gradually pulled it out, and...
A great cheer came up from the crowd, with much stomping of hooves and the like. This went on for a few seconds, and then finally started to die down, and eventually transitioned into quite murmuring, as it became clear that no one had come up onto the stage yet. Cheerilee, her smile wavering, was about to call again, when Rarity cantered onto the stage.
"Sweetie Belle had to head home early, I'm afraid," she said, "I will accept the award for her." Cheerilee nodded in approval, and Rarity took the certificate and mixed bag of candy as a collection of the crowd started to clap again.
Cheerilee cleared her throat, "Now, in the words of Shake Spear, Our Revels Are Now Ended. Until next time, I must bid you all goodbye. Have a pleasant evening."
The sun was slipping downwards on the horizon.
The wind swept through a strangely empty forest. There is the distant sound of screams.
Scattered in a patch of mud, there lies a broken fledgling tree, a shattered fake Slenderman head, a fractured compass, and a torn scrap of purple, star covered cloth.
The edge of the forest stands like a ridge of shadow against the green field hued orange in the dusk. Suddenly, tendrils of shadow rise up like sentient smoke.
The clock tower stands alone, facing the sun. With the rattle of rusted gears, the minute hands slide into place, at the very dot of 5:45.
The very stroke of sunset.
Twilight was one of the first to realize something was up. It began with a humming she heard as she was clearing up her stall. Anyone else might have just ignored it, but he ear twitched and she looked around, to see if it was some sort of mutant mosquito. But as the sound got louder, it seemed less and less like anything she'd heard before. It didn't seem like a bug, didn't seem like vibrating metal, it felt more like some sort of creature with a completely different form of throat to any other was doing some kind of meditating chant.
As she looked behind her, she saw with growing horror that she wasn't the first to hear it, and hadn't even received its full effects. Every single colt and filly under the age of twelve had frozen in place, standing like stiff and straight statues. Their expressions were blank, their pupils dilated to pinpricks. They seemed to be under some kind of trance. Their parents pulled and tugged at them, trying to get them to 'stop fooling around' or 'snap out of it'. The reactions ranged from annoyance to worry, but gradually, each and every parent was filled with fear. That was when the music began.
It was the sound of a voice, or perhaps it was two voices, in opposite pitch and tone but in perfect synchronization. It made a simple melody that seemed to echo inside of you, and it was coming in the direction of the Everfree forest. The children's heads turned toward it, with an almost mechanical slowness.
The children turned, and began to walk. In one speed, in one gait, each foot lifting and coming down in unison, in a twisted march. Ponies tried to block their path, or hold them down, but the children kept on moving, powering on through with a strength and determination greater than themselves. They moved faster, and faster, and faster still, until they all broke into a gallop.
Twilight focused her magic into grabbing a colt, but found herself being yanked forward onto her face. Rainbow Dash darted left and right trying to knock the unicorn kids down to earth. With what could only be described as an ululating war cry, Pinkie flew through the air with a butterfly net, and dropped directly down onto a unicorn filly, who promptly disappeared in a teleportation spell beyond her years.
The girls ran together with a mob of other ponies. It didn't take long to sink in where they were all headed: the entrance to the Everfree forest. The woodlands seemed darker than ever. It seemed the shadows themselves were alive, swirling and writhing in and amongst the trees. The fillies were heading straight towards the trees, and nothing could stand in their way. Suddenly, there came a birdlike screeching from the entrance. Twilight looked up, she knew that sound. Her feathered companion, Owlowiscious came bolting pell mell through the air, feathers plucked and fear in his eyes. It seemed like he was trying to warn them about something. But before he could get the chance, something pitch black lashed out of the forest and pulled him back inside.
Eyes wide with horror, Twilight suddenly flipped around and shouted "WAIT!" The ponies stopped inches from the forest, the sound of their young ones fading away into the darkness. "Whatever's in there, it's big, and it's dangerous. We don't need any more ponies getting hurt than necessary."
"We can't just abandon them!" went a pegasus with a strawberry and grapes for a cutie mark.
"My poor muffin!" wept a stonefaced grey pegasus.
"I say we all go in, overpower that thing in its lair!" proclaimed a moustachioed pony in tennis gear "Element of surprise, the whole town ganging up, standing together! Slenderman'll never know what hit it!"
"Have you BEEN in that forest?!" retorted a cream and light brown unicorn mare, "Have you any idea how many trees are in the way?! We'll be scattered like beetles, and it'll pick us off before you can say "shadow"!"
"Enough!" a brown stallion with a short cropped mane stepped forward. "I would happily sacrifice myself, the same as any of you, to get those children back. But sacrifices are worthless here if they children don't come home safe and sound, and there's now guaranteeing any of us can manage that. If anyone's qualified to go in, if anyone's shown they stand a chance of facing the Slenderman and getting our foals back, I should think it's the ones who fought the biggest shadow of them all and lived. I say the Bearers of Harmony go, and take our hope and faith with them!"
"Yeah! That's what I say too!" chipped in a blue unicorn with a mane like toothpaste.
Bit by bit, the cheer built up across the crowd. Twilight could help but feel a twinge of anxiety. The entire town was counting on her and her friends, and if they couldn't do it, then it would all come down upon the town. She looked around, to Spike in the crowd, who gave a thumbs up, to Rarity and Fluttershy, who gave a nervous smile each, then to Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash.
"You think we can do this?" she asked.
"Is that a trick question or what?" asked Dash.
Twilight smiled, and ran inside.
The air was deathly still as the six friends made their way deeper and deeper into the forest. The sky was pitch black, when it had seemed so warm and orange before. The trees seemed to move closer to you every time you turned around, the mist coiling around your legs. They could feel the things in the shadows watching them, waiting for them, and there seemed to be more of them than ever. But they stood strong, and they stood together, because they were the best of friends.
It happened like l htning. Fluttershy barely had time to scream when it caught her legs and dragged her down.
The five friends rushed after her. It was too late to grab her and the thorns were too thick. They could only call out to their friend, and hope that she could hear them.
Pinke Pie suddenly heard something. It was thw sougn od children laughing and playing.
Before anyone could stop her, she ran down the path where she saw the fillies bouncing a ball between them. She called out to them.
Too ;ate did she see them turn around. To late d d she reoalize their eyas weer blankd and emotionaless, too late difn she see the covereing their faces. Too late. Too late.
Pinkie screamed. Pinkie ran. The children came fro her. They grabbed her neck, sank in their teetch. There were others comeing. They were undeer the spell. Rainbow Dash and Applejack bolted forward. They woud fend them off.
Raruty and Twilight ran. The sou ds wher all areound them. The swirled around them, watchjibng them, fep9ng them. Ther was noe espcae. Sudnly, Raity was launched int the air, a trqp spiurng under hert feet,. A claw of throny vines thwm hoisted the into ther arir.
Twitlight was along. She lrpt on rinnung. All she could dou was rtun. Whenre wherrt hert friends? Whye wassn thes happenfing? They were suppoised toe be vfinds foprever. Hsow could they abojhd her? Oh no,. Oh no nbo no no bnp. Do t; let them take me , she thoughnt, dont' slerthew thewmw
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